Can Castro Run a Start-Up?

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What happens when your whole country is a factory in a post-industrialist economy?

I’m on vacation in Cuba, sitting pool-side and reading Ctl Alt Delete by Mitch Joel. As I read the chapter on thinking like a start up, I am struck by the contrast to that mindset encouraged by the socialist economy down here.

In his book, Joel argues that the economy and the way we work is changing and those who succeed during this period of change will be those who treat their jobs and their lives like a start up. That means being willing to take risks, to change course, adapt, work hard, look to the edges to find opportunities to make a difference and, above all, find ways to start things.

Companies like Zappos, Apple, and Disney teach and empower their employees to think and act like this. The results are stories of tremendous customer experiences, leading edge products and really happy customers that buy more and spread the word.

Contrast that to the corporation that is the country of Cuba – all industry government owned and all workers with their assigned tasks and wage. Each person has a job. They have a standard wage attached to that job, and very little likelihood of change or advancement. Take the microcosm of the resort I’m at. If you are in the gift shop at closing time, for example, they will not sell you anything. Their job is to work the register and that stops at closing time. Come back tomorrow if you want that item so badly.

Our resort lost power for a day while I was down there. Despite some concerned customers, the staff went about their normal jobs, refusing to deviate. If part of their job was affected by the lack of power, that part didn’t get done. There was no adaptive thinking.

The front desk wouldn’t change any money because the computer was down, despite having the rates posted on a sheet of paper and a calculator on the desk. The bar, having brought in canned beer on ice when the draft pump stopped working, would not let me take a can and insisted on pouring it into wasteful, little plastic cups.

We spoke to a lifeguard who told us that, because there is no incentive to work harder, people perform their job description to the letter and no more. There is nothing to gain; no raise, no promotion, no bonus. No reason to find ways to be great, or new ways to do things.

In this state of flux that the world economy is in, I wonder how long a socialist economy like Cuba’s can last. How long before economic pressure forces a change? How long can the commodity of a beautiful beach and great weather overcome this gap?

Could we see the demise of the industrial economy on a country-wide scale in this little tropical paradise?

I know I am straying into political realms a bit here, but the alignment to what thinkers like Joel and Seth Godin write about in terms if the impact on companies completely applies here, I think. It’s a fascinating case study, don’t you think?

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